MK Basel Ghattas questioned by police in new case
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MK Basel Ghattas questioned by police in new case

Knesset to vote on ousting Arab lawmaker accused of passing contraband to jailed Palestinian terrorists, now also suspected of fraud, money laundering

Joint (Arab) List member Basel Ghattas is brought to court for a remand on his arrest at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, December 27, 2016. (Yair Sagi/POOL)
Joint (Arab) List member Basel Ghattas is brought to court for a remand on his arrest at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, December 27, 2016. (Yair Sagi/POOL)

MK Basel Ghattas, already under investigation for smuggling contraband to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails, was questioned by police on Monday in a new case involving forgery, fraud, and money laundering.

The MK was questioned under caution by the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit on suspicion of receiving bribes, falsifying documents and money laundering, according to police spokeswoman Luba Samri. She added that the probe came out of a State Comptroller investigation into funding for Ghattas’s Balad party, which is part of the Joint (Arab) List faction.

In response Ghattas’s spokesperson called the probe “proof of a political witch hunt” against his party.

The MK, under suspicion in a separate case for passing materials including cellular phones and SIM cards to Palestinian security prisoners, said the timing of the police summons is “peculiar” given the fact that the probe seemed to have been closed three months ago.

“This is more improper conduct by the police against me with the goal of influencing my legal case in order to create a hostile atmosphere around me,” Ghattas said in a statement.

An investigation into Balad financing three months ago led to some 60 party activists being questioned by police, including MKs Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka.

Coalition lawmakers, led by Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, submitted the signatures of 72 MKs in favor of removing Ghattas from office using the law passed in July under which 70 Knesset members — 10 of whom must be from the opposition — may file a complaint with the Knesset speaker against any lawmaker to remove him or her from office. The law was geared toward any lawmaker who supports armed struggle against Israel or incites to racial hatred.

The Knesset House Committee can then debate the complaint before clearing it with a three-quarter majority in the committee. The motion to dismiss the lawmaker would then be sent to the plenum, where, if 90 of the 120 Knesset members vote in favor, the MK would be ousted. The deposed lawmaker could then appeal the decision with the High Court of Justice.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein confirmed that he had received the signatures, adding that he hopes “that this will be the last time” that the bill is invoked.

Yuli Edelstein, right, reviewing signatures of 72 MKs supporting a vote on the impeachment of Basel Ghattas, as Zeev Elkin, left, looks on, in the Knesset on January 16, 2017. (Knesset Spokesman's Department)
Yuli Edelstein, right, reviewing signatures of 72 MKs supporting a vote on the impeachment of Basel Ghattas, as Zeev Elkin, left, looks on, in the Knesset on January 16, 2017. (Knesset Spokesman’s Department)

However, chances of expelling Ghattas remain slim as 32 lawmakers have confirmed that they will vote against the measure: all 13 from the Joint (Arab) List, all 5 from the left-wing Meretz party, 13 from the Zionist Union and the Likud’s Benny Begin.

Nevertheless, a spokesperson for Elkin told The Times of Israel that he will be able to muster the 90 MKs needed to pass the measure, “with the help of God.”

Earlier on Monday the opposition Zionist Union faction urged the Joint (Arab) list to expel Ghattas before the matter was put to the vote.

In the letter, Zionist Union said it “does not support the principle of the MK expulsion law, since MKs don’t need to kick out other MKs on their own — but the Joint List needs to work to fire Ghattas from the Knesset in light of the grave suspicions against him — or the Zionist Union will allow its members to vote as they please.”

The party, which has consistently opposed the expulsion law in principle, said in its letter that if it had to resort to it in order to oust Ghattas, it would be the Joint List’s fault.

The Joint List, which is also in the opposition, rejected the letter and called on lawmakers to oppose the use of the “anti-democratic” expulsion law, “which damages the foundations of parliamentarism.”

In a statement, the Joint List said that “members of the opposition must understand that their flipflopping damages them and helps [Prime Minister] Netanyahu, who is leading a demagogic, opportunistic and racist campaign against Arab MKs.”

The party stressed that the move could “further increase the lack of faith of the Arab public in participation in the Knesset and in the elections.”

Ghattas is suspected of smuggling phones and other contraband to two Palestinians serving time in Israeli prison, one for murder and one for other terror offenses. He was recently released from house arrest but is expected to be charged.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has authorized a draft indictment against Ghattas, which has yet to be lodged, and which includes charges of using property to abet terror, fraud, breach of trust, and aggravated fraud.

Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in Israeli prison. (screen capture: Channel 10)
Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in Israeli prison. (screen capture: Channel 10)
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